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Iowa Football: Have the Hawkeyes Lived Up to Expectations?

David Fidler Correspondent IOctober 7, 2012

Iowa Football: Have the Hawkeyes Lived Up to Expectations?

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    After five games, Iowa is 3-2, which isn't where Hawkeye fans hoped their team would be, but it's much better than where they were following the catastrophic loss to Central Michigan.

    Coming into the year, it was evident that 2012 would be a rebuilding year.

    Iowa had to replace almost its entire defensive line, the greatest wide receiver to ever wear the black and gold, its top rusher, three NFL-draft-worthy offensive linemen, a cornerback, linebacker and a punter.

    In effect, expectations weren't high for the Hawks, though they weren't quite so low as to accept a loss to CMU.

    That said, this article will only look at players that have seen meaningful minutes at their respective positions. It will then attempt to judge if those players have met expectations, given what was expected of them back in August.

Quarterback

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    Relevant Players: Senior James Vandenberg

     

    Breakdown: Vandenberg has faced a great deal of criticism this season, and he has unquestionably had issues.

    As it turns out, he is too inaccurate for new offensive coordinator (OC) Greg Davis' system, which has caused Davis to tweak some play calls. Consequently, over the last three games, the offense has looked more like former OC Ken O'Keefe's offense than the one Davis wants to institute.

    Despite said tweaking, JVB has continued to struggle.

    In the second half against Minnesota, he hit 5-of-11 passes for 27 yards. This was despite facing a defense that sold out to stop the run.

    He has only thrown two touchdown passes on the year, and one of those was a flea-flicker. In other words, it was a gadget play that worked only because it was a trick play.

    Regardless of his struggles, Vandenberg is a better quarterback than he's shown himself to be. Last year, he connected on passes that he has had troubles with this year.

    He has to find a way to get some sort of positive momentum, which will propel him back to respectability.

    Barring that, it is difficult to see the offense being able to move the ball against any except the worst defenses.

     

    Conclusion: Needs a lot of improvement

Tailbacks

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    Relevant Players: Sophomore Damon Bullock, sophomore Mark Weisman and true freshman Greg Garmon

     

    Breakdown: The Hawkeyes limped into the season with a true sophomore and a true freshman as the only available and healthy scholarship backs.

    The true sophomore in question, Damon Bullock, performed admirably—280 yards, 4.31 yards-per-carry (YPC) and a touchdown—but he was concussed in the third game of the season and hasn't seen the field since.

    Garmon went down with a dislocated shoulder shortly after Bullock left the game.

    Enter walk-on fullback Mark Weisman, whose statistics are deceptive, as he played fullback for the first two games of the year. In effect, he has fewer touches than many other Big Ten rushers.

    Nevertheless, he currently leads the conference in rushing-touchdowns-scored-per-game, and he is first in the conference with 6.96 YPC (players with over 50 carries).

    Moreover, Garmon is now healthy, and Bullock is expected back against Michigan State.

     

    Conclusion: Far exceeded expectations

Fullbacks

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    Relevant Players: Junior Brad Rogers, sophomore Mark Weisman, senior Jonathan Gimm

     

    Breakdown: Iowa fans got a shock before the opening game of the season when sophomore Air Force transfer and walk-on Mark Weisman was named starting fullback. He got the job over returning starter Brad Rogers.

    As we now know, Rogers, while cleared to play, had been nursing some injuries. Moreover, Weisman's performance on the field has justified his ascension up the depth chart.

    Weisman has since moved to tailback, and Rogers has resumed his role as starting fullback, with Gimm serving as an able backup.

    Under Ferentz, the fullback has historically functioned as a roving guard rather than an offensive weapon. However, in limited appearances this year, Rogers already has two touches, which is half of what he had in a full season last year. And Weisman's accomplishments, both from tailback and fullback, have been covered.

     

    Conclusion: Exceeded expectations

Wide Receivers

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    Relevant Players: Senior Keenan Davis, sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley, junior Don Shumpert, junior Jordan Cotton, senior Steven Staggs, redshirt-freshman Jacob Hillyer

     

    Breakdown: Dropped balls, poorly run routes, miscommunications, failure to read and react to the blitz.

    It's hard to definitively tell where the fault lies in what has been an anemic Iowa passing game, but some of the blame has to fall on the receivers' shoulders.

    The good news is, as a unit, this group has taken palpable steps forward since an abortive Iowa State performance that saw all pass catchers—running backs and tight ends included—drop seven-eight passes (total depends upon who's counting).

     

    Conclusion: Needs a lot of improvement

Tight Ends

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    Relevant Players: Junior C.J. Fiedorowicz, senior Zach Derby, sophomore Ray Hamilton, redshirt-freshman Jake Duzey, redshirt-freshman Henry Krieger-Coble

     

    Breakdown: Coming into the season, the fans and the media focused on Fiedorowicz and how he was going to explode in Greg Davis's offense.

    During spring practice, Davis himself (via Hawkcentral) commented, "this is only 39 springs I’ve been in, and I’ve never had a tight end like C.J. with his size and ability to play at the line of scrimmage and also stretch the field."

    Yet, it is now five games into the season, and Fiedorowicz is something of a question mark. He is third on the team in receptions (15) and yards (172), but he has no touchdowns and has not been the game-breaker fans were hoping for.

    On the bright side, Fiedorowicz, Derby, Hamilton and both of the red-shirt freshmen are regularly seeing the field. That presages a bright future, as four of those players will have eligibility remaining after this season.

     

    Conclusion: Needs improvement

Offensive Line

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    Relevant Players: Senior James Ferentz, senior Matt Tobin, junior Brett Van Sloten, sophomore Brandon Scherff, sophomore Andrew Donnal, redshirt freshman Austin Blythe

     

    Breakdown: Mark Weisman has gotten all the press, but the real story has been the offensive line,

    Over the last three games, it has opened rushing lanes the size of the Grand Canyon. One is left to wonder if Bullock would have done as well as or better than Weisman has, given that before his injury against Northern Iowa, Bullock averaged almost six YPC against a fresh defense. By comparison, Weisman averaged 4.71 YPC against a tired UNI D.

    The line opened the season poorly, allowing six sacks and multiple pressures against Northern Illinois. It then protected its quarterback against Iowa State, but only paved the way for 2.43 YPC.

    Since then, it has been on fire, allowing zero sacks in the past four games and helping plow the way for 6.23 YPC over the last three contests.

    The grading will get tougher going forward, as teams will stack the box and force the underachieving passing game to carry its own weight.

    Nevertheless, up to this point, the all-Iowa line (per Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette) and new offensive line coach Brian Ferentz have been superb.

     

    Conclusion: Far exceeded expectations

Defensive Ends

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    Relevant Players: Senior Joe Gaglione, senior Steve Bigach, junior Dominic Alvis, redshirt-freshman Riley McMinn

     

    Breakdown: Gaglione has been the best and most consistent of all Iowa defensive linemen this year. He has provided pressure from the edge, and it has shown up on the stat sheet. He leads the Hawks with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.

    Alvis has been quiet, but for the most part, dependable, and Bigach has seen minutes both inside and outside.

    Lastly, McMinn gained his first notable minutes last week against Minnesota.

    This unit needs more consistent pressure off the edge, but overall, it has done a solid job.

     

    Conclusion: Exceeded expectations

Defensive Tackles

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    Relevant Players: Senior Steve Bigach, sophomore Carl Davis, sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat, sophomore Mike Hardy, redshirt-freshman Darian Cooper

     

    Breakdown: The biggest concern coming into the season were the defensive tackles, who were young, inexperienced and, outside of Davis and Cooper, undersized.

    There have been some struggles and inconsistencies, but their emergence has been a substantial part of why Iowa is the No. 2 rushing defense (YPC) in the Big Ten.

    They have improved with every game, and they had their best game against Minnesota.

    Trinca-Pasat is establishing himself as the next in line of the Mitch King/Karl Klug undersized playmakers with non-stop motors.

    Davis is the first notable Iowa defensive tackle since Colin Cole to weigh north of 300 pounds, and Hawkeyegamefilm—a regular contributor on Hawkeyenation—recently compared Cooper to erstwhile Iowa defensive tackle Mike Daniels.

    Finally, Bigach has provided much-needed leadership, as he rotates between the end and tackle.

    Best of all, outside of Bigach, they are all sophomores and freshmen.

     

    Conclusion: Far exceeded expectations

Linebackers

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    Relevant Players: Juniors James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens

     

    Breakdown: Heading into the season, the linebackers could have gone a number of ways.

    The position group returned two starters, and the third starter—Hitchens—had game-time experience.

    It could have been a solid, if unspectacular, group, or it could have established itself as a unit that would have to be reckoned with through 2014.

    After five games, there have been mixed results, but the linebackers put together their first whistle-to-whistle contest against Minnesota.

    If they can continue to play at that level, they will establish themselves as the best linebacking group in the conference in 2014 and will have considerably exceeded expectations.

     

    Conclusion: Met expectations

Cornerbacks

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    Relevant Players: Senior Micah Hyde, junior B.J. Lowery, senior Greg Castillo, true-freshman Sean Draper

     

    Breakdown: One of the key differences between former defensive coordinator (DC) Norm Parker and current DC Phil Parker is the latter's willingness to drop a safety into the box. This leads to cornerbacks being put on an island more than they have been over the past 13 years.

    Overall, starters Hyde, Lowery and Castillo haven't played badly. Nonetheless, as is the case with cornerbacks, when they mess up, it is on display. That was the case multiple times against Central Michigan.

    Also, their tackling has been inexplicably sloppy at times.

    Draper has done well in dime coverage—another difference between Phil Parker and Norm Parker.

     

    Conclusion: Slightly below expectations

Safeties

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    Relevant Players: Senior Tom Donatell, junior Tanner Miller

     

    Breakdown: Another difference between Phil Parker and Norm Parker is that Phil Parker's safeties line up in man coverage more than Norm Parker's.

    As with all schemes, this has its up and down side.

    The Hawkeye safeties have been exposed in coverage multiple times, but they have also performed particularly well against the run.

     

    Conclusion: Met expectations

Special Teams

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    Breakdown: Junior place-kicker Mike Meyer has started off the year on a tear. He has hit 10-of-11 field-goal attempts, including a long of 50 yards. He has also broken the Iowa record for successful extra-point attempts with 67 in a row. On top of that, 48.15 percent of his kickoffs have gone for touchbacks.

    True freshman Connor Kornbrath has struggled—36.29 yards per punt—but he is a true freshman, and his struggles have to be expected. Meanwhile, as BR contributor Nicholas Moffitt pointed out, five of quarterback-turned-pooch-punter John Wienke's seven punts have been downed inside the 20.

    The problem has concerned the return game and the little things.

    Iowa's kickoff return team has averaged 16.79 yards-per-return, which is ninth in the Big Ten and 114th in the nation.

    It has done a solid to reasonable job on punt returns and coverage teams, but the big problem concerns the adjoining video.

    The Iowa onside kick unit looks like it has never fielded an onside kick before, and that has been a recurring problem over the last few years.

    Moreover, it is such things as failing to field an onside kick or failing to execute against a predictable fake punt that have been the difference between a number of wins and losses over the last few years.

     

    Conclusion: Needs a lot of improvement

Final Synopsis

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    The special teams have been the difference between 3-2 and 4-1, and the passing game has been the difference between 5-0 and 4-1. The passing game has also been the difference between the most dominant Hawkeye offense since at least 2008 and what has been a one-dimensional group.

    As for that passing game, it will take time for Greg Davis to get it ticking, but at the moment, it is frustrating to watch.

    On the other hand, the special teams gaffes have been inexcusable, and they are much of the reason for most of Ferentz's letdowns over the past three years.

    Furthermore, it is difficult to understand, as a recent post on Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants explained, "It's the inverse of Ferentz-ball, where everyone has a job and has it drummed into his head."

    In other words, the special teams issues go against everything Iowa fans came to know and love about how Ferentz's teams played in the early part of his tenure.

    Looking forward at the remainder of 2012 and beyond, there is a lot to be hopeful about. In the meantime, Hawkeye fans have to wait for the passing game to get back on track and hope Ferentz figures out the special teams.

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